The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has recently taken to the silver screen this past year with programs such as WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki, gracing the Disney+ streaming platform. But one upcoming animated series promises to be the weirdest and most promising entry in the TV era of the MCU yet.
What If…? is a new animated series in the MCU and explores the multiverse and reimagines the most iconic MCU moments but with a different spin. For example, the show asks “What if Peggy Carter was actually Captain America instead of Steve Rogers?” as well as “What if T’Challa was actually Star-Lord?”. The possibilities are truly endless.
But of course, What If…? wouldn’t exist without the cast and crew behind the project. Awards Radar joined in on a press conference with Jeffrey Wright, Bryan Andrews, AC Bradley, and Brad Winderbaum, related to the show recently where we got to learn more about the exciting new show from Marvel.
CRAFTING THE IDEA OF WHAT IF…?
When asked about how the show’s idea came to be, executive producer Brad Winderbaum explained the interesting process.
BRAD WINDERBAUM: I mean, it was a stroke of inspiration that happened on the drive home from work one day. And I found myself in my driveway just texting with Kevin Feige, back and forth, about what this show could be. And, by the next day, the wheels were in motion and we were on our way to making this thing. And I think it was obvious from the beginning that it needed to be animated because of all the-of all the locations and sets and characters and elements from the MCU we were gonna revisit it, it had to kind of be in a medium that would allow us an infinite scope of whatever we could conceive of.
BRINGING THE OMINOUS WATCHER TO LIFE
The character of “The Watcher” is easily one of the most mysterious and interesting characters that fans of Marvel Comics know and love. Jeffrey Wright explains how he brought the character to life for the show.
JEFFREY WRIGHT: The Watcher is described in his first appearance in Marvel
Comics, I think it was in 1963, as something like the most dramatic being in all the known universe. This is something like this. So, he’s a fairly dramatic guy. He’s a fairly powerful guy. He’s kind of overseeing the entire MCU. He’s overseeing the multiverses, and he plays somewhat of a Rod Sterling role here. Kind of narrating, kind of not. In some ways, he may be the biggest Marvel fan there is. Watching all that transpires and dealing with certain temptations to involve himself.
What does The Watcher think of all these characters and all their conflicts
and heroes and villains? What does he make of these people?
JEFFREY WRIGHT: I think he, in some ways, he’s kind of defined by them. It’s his life’s passion to observe and connect with them, with their heroicisms with their flaws. Without them, he’s nothing, in some regard. So he adores them and is compelled by them in a way that gives him purpose, that gives his life meaning. As I think about these characters and what they’ve come to represent, we are like The Watcher, and in some ways, I think that the passion behind fans’ connection to these characters is this level of trust.
Is The Watcher appearing in the MCU, in a movie or a show, in live-action form, something that we could see that you would want to do in the future?
JEFFREY WRIGHT: Well, What If…? is very much about the idea that all things are possible, so, you know, that’s a reasonable question and, I guess the answer to it is, well, what if?
What was the process like finding the voice for The Watcher?
JEFFREY WRIGHT: Well, Brad and I, particularly, talked about who this being was and how he might sound. And obviously, there are infinite possibilities to what tone he might use but there are limitations because I only have one voice. But, he’s, you know, obviously, an incredibly powerful character. Omnipotent in some ways. Mythic, dramatic. I also wanted to kind of make it as personal as I could and I talk a little bit about trying to go away from some of these, kind of, stereotypes of the wise, sagely, larger than life character and try to ground him in rhythms and music that are closer to my own. But what you hear is what we came up with.
DIRECTING THE ZANY WORLD OF WHAT IF…?
Having the task of bringing such a colorful and explosive story to life is a difficult task for even the most seasoned of directors. Bryan Andrews, who directed the series, speaks about his challenges and experiences with bringing What If…? to life.
BRYAN ANDREWS: Well, I think that it was important to all of
us, you know. Right from the beginning, from talkin’ to Brad about it. It’s an anthology, and part of the aspect of it being an anthology, just like those Twilight Zones back in the day.
It’s like, you never know what you’re gonna get, you know. You might get an episode that’s a comedy, you might get an episode that’s kind of dramatic and serious, like, super emotional, full of action. And all of us, you know, A.C., Brad, I myself, Kevin, Victoria, it’s like, we all love cinema. We all love everything in it. And this gave us an opportunity to apply a little taste of a variety of genres into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So, one can maybe go a little bit darker. One gets even funnier.
And having that type of variation was written in the book itself. Just what if? You know, what if this, what if that? Things are so different, so weird, so crazy. It just opens the floodgates. We can do whatever we wanted to, and that was quite exhilarating to be able to play in that way.
Which stories were not approved and you’d like to see? Is there any chance we see them in the future in the second-second season, maybe?
Yes, there is. Obviously, we wish we could’ve made thirty episodes but we only were greenlit for ten. We are fortunate enough to be exploring some of those ideas in our second season. But the world’s changed and the fictional Marvel universe has changed. So, new ideas also bubble forth, too, and new stories and new opportunities to tell new stories come about. So yes. You will have an opportunity to see at least some of those.
BRAINSTORMING STORY IDEAS
Writing a show as bold and daring as What If…? certainly takes plenty of skill and ideas, and AC Bradley was tasked to pen the ideas and scripts for the new series. He dishes on his experiences:
AC BRADLEY: To be honest with you, when it came to creating
an episode, and figuring out the story of “What If…?”, the last thing we thought about was the what if. I think what we all looked for was what’s the heart behind the hero? How do we get behind the shield? What’s a part of the story we haven’t told before?
For me, these characters are iconic. We recognize their silhouettes. We recognize their taglines. But what’s important is how we connect to them. So, it was finding new ways to connect to Peggy Carter, to Thor Odinson, to Dr. Strange. And, luckily, we have The Watcher to be our guide ‘cause he, too, is looking for a connection. That’s really what drove everything, was character. And then we kind of figured out the what-if.
What are the odds we’re going to see those stories continue in episodes beyond their introductory episodes?
BRAD WINDERBAUM: Early on in development, as we were starting to get A.C.’s scripts and starting to look at the arc of the series, that there was gonna be a character that bubbled up and-and became more important. Not more important than the rest, but had a strong relationship with The Watcher, who is really our driving force behind the series. And that’s Captain Carter. And we realized, as we started developing the second season, that Captain Carter was gonna be the character we would revisit. Obviously, we’re telling a story on a giant, multiversal canvas, so you never really know who’s gonna pop up where and when. It’s very much an anthology, but there’s always an opportunity for fun connections to be made.
Can we expect that some of the events of “What If…?” will be part of the movies, as well?
BRAD WINDERBAUM: Yeah, I mean, I think that without going into great detail, I can tell you that “What If…?”, as a project, as a story, that exists in the MCU is as important as any other.
Marvel Zombies isn’t technically a “What If…?” story from the comic books, but this
certainly seems like a great way to bring it in. So, what is it about Marvel Zombies that made you wanna include it in the show?
AC BRADLEY: The zombies. Marvel Zombies was, I think I might’ve mentioned it
early on, as a what if we did this, kind of, pie in the sky throwaway. Brad was excited and Kevin kind of surprised us by being like, “Yeah, no, you’re doing Marvel Zombies.” And then, the fun part of Marvel Zombies, at least for me, was to delve into that initial run. And, probably more than any other “What If…?” episode, we drew directly from the comic for inspiration and for actual pieces-like, scenes because it is so good.
When it came to actually figuring out the T’Challa episode, Chadwick was still with us. The way that one actually came about was by looking… We had, in the writers’ room, a poster that had all the characters on it. We realized that T’Challa and Peter Quill are the same age, or very close to it.
Is there going to be any sort of season-wide story that is being told over the course of the entire first season of What If…?
BRAD WINDERBAUM: It’s an anthology. There are standalone stories and with the films, and now the shows, we are trying to create stories that exist on their own terms. But, as we know, there’s always strange alchemy at work, so you never know. They could all connect. We’ll have to see.
WORKING WITH CHADWICK BOSEMAN
The late actor Chadwick Boseman has his final role in the MCU with What If…?, which is obviously a very emotional topic for fans.
BRYAN ANDREWS: It was amazing being able to work with him. We only got a small moment ‘cause our episodes are so short. You know, compared to everyone who was able to enjoy his presence in Black Panther or Civil War. We had him for a little moment, to do our thing, and we’re so grateful for it. I think he may have been even one of the first actors that signed on and said, “Oh, yeah, I’m gonna do that voice.” And we were so excited ‘cause we really, really, really wanted to work with Chadwick and we just loved Black Panther. And we love him.
JEFFREY WRIGHT: I actually met Chadwick for the first time, I think at Comic Con in the bathroom, as he was about to introduce the first Black Panther film. And I was there with Westworld. And, we had a really wonderful exchange. He said some wonderful things. We’d run into each other here and there, after. We were going to do Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. I was asked to be a part of that and I couldn’t do it because I was tied up with another film, unfortunately. Because I’ve worked with George Wolf, of course, many times in the theater and he’s a very, very close collaborator and friend of mine. So, I didn’t have a chance to work Chadwick on that.
Marvel Studios’ What If…? premieres on Disney+ on August 11, 2021.